Responsible access in capercaillie areas

Guidance for birdwatchers, photographers and guides.


To reduce your potential impact on capercaillie, follow this guidance:

  • 1 From 1 April to 31 August, when capercaillie are breeding and raising their young, avoid capercaillie areas if you can, or stay on the main paths, avoid stopping and keep noise to a minimum.
  • 2 Be aware that male territories can extend up to 1km from a lek, so birds can be disturbed as they move within their territories to and from the lek.
  • 3 Do not visit capercaillie lek sites during April and May when the birds are lekking (gathered to mate).
  • 4 Be aware that capercaillie do nest near paths and are active with their dependent young throughout the day. This means nesting females and family groups can still be disturbed whilst you are on paths, and at any time of day.
  • 5 If you encounter capercaillie, stay still, quiet and let them move off by themselves. Avoid following them, to avoid disturbing them again.
  • 6 Images taken of capercaillie and shared online can reveal sensitive sites. Image metadata can also reveal locations. To avoid drawing attention to sensitive sites, please do not share images of capercaillie online or include information about specific locations.
  • 7 To conserve energy in the winter, capercaillie are active for as little as four hours a day. Because winter is still a demanding season for capercaillie, consider whether it is better for the birds’ survival to simply leave them in peace.
  • 8 Sometimes capercaillie show atypical behaviour and display in prominent places or appear tame. Whilst these birds may seem an easy and low-risk viewing opportunity, this can cause unnecessary stress to a bird that is already chronically stressed. If encountered, please withdraw immediately. Do not photograph or film the bird, or share its location, and report the bird to

Legal protection

Capercaillie are listed on Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

This makes it a wildlife crime to intentionally or recklessly disturb capercaillie whilst they are:

  • lekking
  • nest building
  • at or near a nest with eggs or young

It is also an offence to:

  • disturb the dependent young of a capercaillie
  • obstruct or prevent a capercaillie from using its nest
  • damage, destroy or interfere with a capercaillie nest while it’s in use or being built
  • kill, injure or take a capercaillie
  • take or destroy the eggs of a capercaillie

The impacts of disturbance on capercaillie

Poor breeding sucess

If disturbed, capercaillie can abandon lek (mating) sites, nests and chicks. This could prevent mating, cause eggs to chill and chicks to become more vulnerable to hypothermia and predation.


Our presence increases levels of stress hormones in capercaillie and repeated disturbance can cause the birds chronic stress. This can affect their growth, body condition, immune-function, reproduction and survival.

Habitat avoidance

Our presence can influence the distribution of capercaillie. Scottish studies show that disturbance causes capercaillie to avoid up to 40% of the habitat they need to survive.